In Days to Come: Waiting for the Day
The prophet Isaiah is a central figure in the story of Advent.
“In days to come” he says
“the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains.”
You have to remember,
Isaiah is speaking to a hurt people, a lost people
People who are trying to hold on to the CENTRAL tenets of their faith
while the world around them is falling apart
and they are dealing with exile and political chaos and community upheaval.
These are the promises of God, Isaiah says,
God is coming.
God is coming soon.
On that day, people will say
Come, let us go up to that high mountain of God’s
Let us learn God’s ways
Let us walk on God’s paths
God will decide fairly our conflicts
And these weapons of ours we won’t need any longer
lets melt them down, reshape them into plows
And grow food!
Its one thing to say that to a people who have it pretty good
You know, pre-exile, before things get pretty rough
But its something else entirely to tell that to a people
Who are struggling to keep it all together.
In days to come…
When will it be?
Well, Paul seemed to think we should know:
Here’s how he put it in his letter to the Romans:
“Besides this, you know what time it is,
how now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.
For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;
The night is far gone,
The day is near.”
Paul seems to Know.
Isaiah seems to know.
All I know is that it looks and feels a long way off…
We Americans have this weird relationship with time
Particularly this time of year
When the clock moves back an hour
And it feels so dark outside
as we approach a new year.
It was not much of a surprise to me at all when I read
that we Americans consult our calendar—
–that we spend our time thinking about time
–as much in the last six weeks of the year
as we do the rest of the year combined.[i]
Of course we do: the holiday plans,
…dinners to assemble,
…travel itineraries to arrange,
…schedules to juggle—it’s inevitable.
In my household, add to that basketball practice and piano rehearsal
and Thanksgiving dinners and on and on.
We are “aided” in all of this
by the consistent drum-beat of our time-obsessed culture.
There are 28 days until Christmas.
34 days until New Year’s.
School Winter break is in 24 days. At least in our school district
(Also: 102 days until Spring Break
and 178 days until school is out for summer!…kids, take note)
While we’re at it: Tax Filing Day is 138 days away
and the 2020 presidential election is only 1436 days from now.
I’m sure the ads will start pretty soon….
There is a way in which we are CONSUMED by the drum-beat of TIME.
Particularly so, perhaps, at this time of year.
…And so it may STARTLE us
to come to realize that Paul is talking to us, too:
“You know what time it is,
how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
What does it mean for us to be going about our days asleep?
Did you notice, also, how today’s gospel text, the reading Don offered for us
was also about time,
How the gospel also urged us to keep alert, to be awake!
“Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day
your Lord is coming.”
A friend this week tipped me off to something that might help… maybe:
Sonic Alert Incorporated, of Troy, Michigan,
is targeting deep-sleepers—with the “Sonic Bomb.”
This clock has an alarm that rings at up to 113 decibels—
–somewhere between “extremely loud” and “painful”
louder than a chain saw…
If that isn’t enough, each model comes with a flashing red light
and a vibrating pad to go under a pillow or mattress,
where it shakes you awake.
The McKowns said they just got one,
but you gotta make sure they stay plugged in
or it won’t work….the noise is not enough!
College students, especially,
“have all these gadgets they’re using all the time,”
says a spokeswoman for the company.
“They need more stimulation” to wake up.[ii]
But maybe It’s NOT just college students…
…we all have so much working against our “waking up.”
“Christmas is the numbing season,” Rodney Clapp once said.
“There are ceaseless rounds of Christmas parties,
each requiring preparation of food and gift-buying,
each [overflowing] with expectations
of obligatory Christmas cheer.
There is a flood of commerce,
requiring a careful parsing of which are the newest
and most “necessary” toys or clothes
for children and grandchildren.
There are the visits to family
spiked with all the stresses attendant upon such endeavors.
“Finally (and almost as an afterthought),” Clapp continues
“there are added church responsibilities of nativity programs,
Christmas Eve services, and so forth.
No wonder many of us are likely to dread Christmas
almost as much as we look forward to it.”[iii]
It is all too easy to go through the Christmas holiday season
So busy, so distracted, so worried
That we might as well be asleep
unaware of what God is up to.
That could be one reality.
Another could be that it is all just too … painful, this time of year.
When I was a kid, I remember a clever TV ad
For a pain-reliever called Mediprin.
It was a kind of Ibuprofin made by the makers of Tylenol.
On this ad, A guy with a hand-held jackhammer rattled away
on the streets of New York, chaos, stress,
this racket filling the air.
The guy had a splitting headache.
Then, a sharp businesswoman rushed from meeting to meeting,
conference call to conference call,
not a second to spare.
She also had a monumental headache.
Then came the voiceover:
“Mediprin—when you don’t have time for the pain.”[iv]
The message was: If we are BUSY enough, and with the right medicine…
we won’t have to notice the pain we carry,
or the pain that surrounds us…
“Wake up! Do you know what time it is?”
–this is the underlying theme from our scripture lessons today.
“Wake up. Your salvation is nearer now than when you first believed,”
says Paul to the Romans.
Today we begin the season of Advent.
A season of watching, and waiting.
A season of waking up, of taking notice.
A season of entering into God’s time.
We begin a new cycle of holy time. The church calendar starts today.
Today we begin preparations for the coming of Christ.
A Christ who has come, is come, will come—
–this…advent… is a complex view of time.
Do we really have space in our busy lives for this kind of holy time?
It doesn’t take one long, when you follow Jesus,
to realize that our faith does NOT keep time
as the world keeps time.
We all live our lives under the world’s calendar:
today is the first day of December…
…28 days until Christmas,
102 days until Spring Break…and all that.
The red mugs are for sale at Starbucks now.
Santa was at Ward Parkway mall this weekend.
The lights are up at the Plaza.
Someone will have a Santa hat on at the Chiefs game today.
However, our faith invites us to live under ANOTHER calendar:
We are now in Advent.
Our TIME is to be about keeping alert, watching for Signs of God
Coming, incarnate, in our world.
Our faith asks us to ADJUST our sense of what is going on in the world,
by changing our sense of time.
We wake up, in a sense
By SEEING time differently:
Where God moves into ordinary time,
adopts our time,
redeems us from bondage to time’s ravages,
and generates in our world “the fullness of time.”
That’s the main reason why our faith attempts
to mark time in the name of Jesus
by giving us Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter—
These are holy moments, meant to encourage us
to live in time as those who believe that God DWELLS in our time
and that BECAUSE God DWELLS in our time
God can REDEEM our time,
Our pasts and our present.
Think of how often the Gospel writers will say things like,
“The next day…”
“It was about the third hour…”
“On the Sabbath…”
“It was night…”
The Gospel Writers, thinking about the Incarnate one,
Had an acute sense of time.
I believe that this is the Bible’s way of saying that – In Jesus Christ—
–God DWELLS in our time
and makes it God’s own…[v]
But lets be honest:
our relationship with time is ambiguous, at best.
A website, “The Things You Would Have Said,” (www.wouldhavesaid.com)
launched a few years ago.
“Some…things can really eat at people
and they get upset that they didn’t say it,”
Says Jackie Hooper, who started the site.
“If you didn’t have a chance to say something,
and they’re still alive or you’ve lost contact,
it gives you the opportunity to say those things.”
Hooper curates the website and posts one letter a day.
She estimates she’s received about 1,300 letters so far.
About 70% are written to people who have passed away.
An example is a letter posted by Emily, age 33:
I am so sorry for not answering the phone
a few days before you died.
I wasn’t doing anything…
The kids were gone, and the house was quiet
and I ignored your phone call for no good reason.
If only I had known,
I would have gotten to talk with you one last time.
I would have told you what a wonderful, awesome,
unselfish, giving and caring person
I thought you were.
I didn’t get a chance to tell you that,
and I will never forgive myself.[vi]
…if TIME ultimately means “regret” – then we are forever trapped.
…if TIME means the endless repetition of unfinished words…
…then we have no way forward.
But, here’s the point of our faith:
God is the redeemer of time.
More than that, God acts to shape time into purpose.
And THIS season, this holy moment,
Is our living into EXPECTATION and HOPE
And WAITING for that to happen.
In Advent we focus upon,
and EXPLORE the significance of a God
who not only loves us,
but who also showed up among us—
expecting us to live lives
in the wake of Jesus’ life.
That’s why when something happens—
and something ALWAYS happens—
we need to pay attention.
That’s why when our plans and order are DISRUPTED–
–and our plans and order are ALWAYS disrupted—
we need to be ready.
“You know what time it is,
how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
Salvation is nearer to us now
than when we first believed.”
Here’s the first question:
What are we expecting from God?
Are we expecting something huge, some bolt to knock us off our feet
So we can be ready?
Is it something like this?
That’s lightening, by the way.
Do we need a lightening jolt?
Is that what we’re expecting?
Or maybe we think the experience should be something more like jumping off a cliff:
But the idea of God coming as a child,
In the still of the night
In the backwater part of a sleepy town
Is almost the opposite of that sort of experience.
That sort of DISRUPTION might be harder to notice
Something we might need to be AWAKE to see
Lest we miss it…
Or what about the other question:
Do we really have space in our busy lives for this kind of holy time,
This kind of quiet and attentive watching?
Well, I don’t know,
But the rhythms and the routines of our Advent season
Are meant to help us stop
In the hurry of our holidays, we take four LONG weeks
To walk our way to the birth of Jesus.
We as a church take time to gather mittens
And warm clothes and canned food
Not just to help those who desperately need these things
But also so that WE can SLOW DOWN
And adjust to God’s time.
We resist getting to Christmas TOO quickly,
And walk with John the Baptist, and with Mary first
To see what expectation and waiting does to our spirit.
And, in doing this, we hope we can wake up
and see this world as it really is,
a world where giving nourishes the spirit
a world where loving takes roots and grows amazing possibility
where we can wake up and see this world as God’s world.
When Jesus Christ was born among us in Bethlehem,
something was afoot
something considerably beyond our conception
of just what can and can not be.
Advent is our annual reminder that at any moment,
your time could become God’s time.
The time that you thought was your own,
to live as you please, is, in reality—God’s time.
God has a way to taking time,
Taking time from us,
taking time for us.
In our life, it’s not just the same darn thing again and again,
because all that happens in time is not left up to us.
In God’s time,
our PAST is redeemed and our regrets healed;
our PRESENT is a call to attention—
to watch intently for the presence of God;
and our FUTURE is infused with PURPOSE.
A colleague, Mark, once preached a sermon
Where he noted the death of Dag Hammarskjold,
the secretary general of the United Nations
in a tragic plane crash in 1961.
Hammarskjold, Mark noted, once wrote this in his journal:
For all that has been—Thanks!
For all that will be—Yes![vii]
The “thanks” for the past– dissipates regrets, Ramsey said.
The “yes” to the future, God’s future– dissipates fears.
This advent, my prayer is that we might pause and watch and wait
So that we can live so much in God’s present, God’s TODAY
…that we are ready to say YES
to ALL that God is bringing to our world TOMORROW…
…that we can be alert to ways we can ACT in LOVE
to help make God’s world happen.
May it be so.
[i] Cited in NPR’s Morning Edition, November 23, 2010. This sermon is adapted in places and is indebted to the sermon “Tick, Tock” by Rev. Mark Ramsey.
[ii] “Alarms to Outsmart Sleepyheads” by Anne Marie Chaker, The Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2010
[iii] “The Numbing Season” by Rodney Clapp, The Christian Century, December 14, 2010
[iv] Patrick J Howell, Theological Perspective for the First Sunday in Advent, Feasting on the Word, Year A ed David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor.
[v] William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Fourth Quarter 2010, Logos Productions
[vi] “What would you say if you knew it was your last chance?” By Sharon Jayson, USA Today, November 2, 2010.
[vii] Dag Hammarskjkold, Markings, trans Leif Sjoberg and WH Auden, Vintage Books, 1964, p 89
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